Ron Paul Salutsky on Translating Karen Wild Díaz

Ron Paul Salutsky, a native of Somerset, Kentucky, is the author of Romeo Bones (Steel Toe Books, 2013), and translator for Anti-Ferule (Toad Press, 2015), from the Spanish of Karen Wild Díaz. His poetry, translations, and fiction have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Colorado Review, Narrative, Copper Nickel, and América Invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets. Ron lives in Ochlocknee, Georgia, and teaches at Southern Regional Technical College. Our Senior Translation Editor, Jesse Lee Kercheval, recently had a chance to ask him a few questions about his translations of Karen Wild Díaz.
JLK: You have finished translated two books by Karen Wild Díaz’s, Anti-Ferule, which was published last year by Toad Press and these poems that are from her new manuscript, is there anything you would like to tell us about her poetry?

RPS: Uruguay exists at the world forefront of progressive legislation, and part of the reason lies in the political force of its art—art is always political, sure, because its sense-making capacities exceed and thus challenge those of sanctioned authorities, but art isn’t always activist. In South America and Uruguay in particular, it’s far more typical for artists rather than athletes and reality TV stars to represent the interests of the populace—the “organic intellectuals” Antonio Gramsci described—and the line between art and politics generally dissolves: poetry matters, so poets don’t have to spend a lot of energy wondering if poetry matters or lamenting that it doesn’t matter. With relevance comes intense responsibility, however—Karen feels the duty very deeply to do something with that relevance, and that duty presents itself in her art with an unusual urgency and a rigorous philosophical underpinning that’s always evolving—she’s a consummate artist-thinker-citizen.

JLK: What are the particular challenges to translating Wild Díaz’s work?

RPS: Karen’s work keeps teaching me how to translate. Before I began translating her poetry a couple years ago, I thought I had to choose between two poles, free and faithful, and Karen’s work helped me realize those two opposing modes may exist for the translator even within the same poem—one need not necessarily choose one or the other and stick with it through the entire work. The beauty of Karen’s work lies partly in her deft modulation—as with any good composer. Working her way down the page she often weaves easily between philosophy, whimsy, and tenderness—within a single stanza she may construct, deconstruct, then reveal something overwhelmingly human with a (sometimes surreal) clarifying image. As Toby Altman observed in his review of Anti-Ferule, Karen “refuses to a settle on a single poetics, to give a rigid description of the role of the poet. Rather, in her poems, the poet’s work is unstable and dynamic, prone to sudden shifts in content and approach.” The challenge in translating her poetry, then, is one of recognition, to respond accordingly to those shifts in tenor, to modulate my own attention as translator among the sonic and the semantic.

JLK: Are there any other contemporary poets in translation or recently published books in translation—in any language—you would like to recommend to Tupelo Quarterly readers?

RPS: Absolutely. I’ll mention five presses doing important work with mainstream languages as well as with underrepresented languages like Finnish and Uyghur—Phoneme Media, Veliz Books, co-im-press, Toad Press and Action Books—and a short list of favorite translators and poets—Paul Hoover/Maria Baranda, Nancy Naomi Carlson/Abdourahman A. Waberi, Yvette Siegert/Alejandra Pizarnik, Jesse Lee Kercheval/Circe Maia, Johannes Göransson/Johan Jönson, Don Mee Choi/Kim Hyesoon, and Emma Ramadan/Frédéric Forte. And for anyone interested in Karen Wild Diaz’s milieu, there’s a wonderful new bilingual anthology with U New Mexico Press that includes her work among the work of other younger Uruguayan poets: America invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets.
Jesse Lee Kercheval is a 2016 NEA in Translation Fellow and is the author of fourteen books including the poetry collection Cinema Muto, winner of a Crab Orchard Open Selection Award; The Alice Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Fiction Book Prize; the memoir Space, winner of the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She is also a translator, specializing in Uruguayan poetry. Her translations include The Invisible Bridge: Selected Poems of Circe Maia and Fable of an Inconsolable Man by Javier Etchevarren. She is also the editor of the anthology América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets. She is currently the Zona Gale Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she directs the Program in Creative Writing.